As the events unfolds, Trump’s Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” continue to stir public resentment from some segment of US public (if not to exclaim most of US citizens) and notable defiance against Trump from his own officials.
What caused public anxiety and officials insubordination? is it purely empathy and rage against flagrant violation of civil liberties? or is it simply domestic politics where Trump was just being deliberately misunderstood?
Most important of all, how do US politics grow out into variables or characteristics that Indonesia should cautiously discern and add into its strategic calculation to determine the correct and proper course of policy in advancing its interests vis a vis the US. And what those variables and interests could be?
The controversial President
The billionaire turned President, Donald Trump, is perhaps the most controversial President of modern day US. The things he done or the words he said are quickly turned into apple of discord by his political foes, either during his candidacy, President Elect’s term and now as US President.
Of all, US media with its vast and worldwide network also play major part to the bitterness of US politics, as it does elsewhere. They are surely the critical ingredient that embolden the division and fragmentation among US citizens, while attracting worldwide attention at the same time. No wonder at Trump’s very first press conference he called CNN as fake news, a blatant testimony of how divisive the media was.
Against all odds, Trump is a man of his words and seems to kowtow to no one other than his constituency and importantly his political platform. His recent Executive Orders on the Wall and the extreme vetting on immigrants and non-immigrants alike were evident of his campaign promises.
With power blocs vying for power and political influence in US, Trump political “battle” is likely to be perennial than a short one, extending throughout the term of his Administration. He will be under constant quest for a tranquil political environment, conveniently enough for his Administration’s policy making space and its sustainable execution thereof. This too shall provide a clue as to how to deal with the Trump Administration.
The crux of the matter: executive order vs. domestic politics
With all the civil backlash, mutiny by his own officials (most of whom elected under Obama Administration), and dozens of suits against the Executive Order, no one can tell whether the Order could survive the year. Nevertheless, its implementation had been sanctioned and no Governments whom citizens could potentially affected by the Order can stand idle.
Does it ban Muslims from entering the US as framed by the media? Nope. In fact, there are no such religious reference in the Order. What Trump does was simply proclaiming that he temporarily suspend (for 90 days) the entry into the US of “aliens” (yes, it is the term used by the Order, which seems to not signify nationality / citizenship) coming from particular countries of concern.
The Order does not mention which countries are of particular concern but only a reference to some segment of a US Code. Only after clarification from the Homeland Security that it was clear and known to public that the countries referred to are Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
So anyone, except US citizens, processing US visa in these countries will have their visa application temporarily suspended and will be scrutinized under strict immigration vetting from relevant US Agencies, irrespective of whether they are Muslims, Christians, Sikh, Buddhists or any religion whatsoever.
Yes, Indonesia is not in the list but Indonesian nationals could be scrutinized if they seek entry to US via any of these countries. It is hence the consular task of the Indonesian Government to inform its citizens abroad on the scope and reach that the Order could possibly get.
What else does the Order do? Trump did suspend the entry of nationals of Syria (of any religion) as refugees and of more than 50.000 other refugees in fiscal year 2017, indefinitely until it is proclaimed otherwise.
How these policies ventures into implementation is certainly a challenging subject in its own right. Let alone the question whether these “suspension” or “ends-dictates-the means” approach is in compliance with US obligation under the prevailing international law and principles relating to refugees.
The Order also went further to suspend for 120 days the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Least known to US public and concerned foreign audience is the fact that the Order sets strict safeguard and exceptions to the USRAP suspensions, which among others, that it could admit refugees on case-by-case basis
It is hard to reconcile that the current political fanfare and turbulence in US politics are not essentially political. Hence, it is still an altruism that no political act or phenomenon that stands in political vacuum or regarded simply as a mere random and unintelligible daily facts of life, detracts of its coherence and unanswerable to political situation, analysis and theories.
The interwoven of interests and the resulting contention thereof in the fabrics of American constitutional democracy proves, on the bright side, that there is never a matured democracy model that would serve as a “city upon a hill” as expressed by John F. Kennedy in his inauguration speech where “the eyes of all people are upon us”.
US – Indo relationship
With all the fiasco from Trump’s recent Executive Order, it is alarming to the Indonesian Government about the scope and the reach that the Order could possible get.
On the larger scale, the currently messy and murky US politics are also indicative, at least, to how the Indonesian Government could strategically pursue its interests vis a vis the US. Trump’s personality does matter and the team he amassed are also suggestive of what his priorities and approach will be.
First and foremost, is to ensure that our citizens abroad are well-informed on ways and how the Order could get implemented, particularly on how could our citizens properly react to it.
Foreign Minister Retno’s prompt reaction by notifying Indonesian nationals in US to stay cautious was timely and thus commendable. She has also promptly instruct all the Indonesian’s missions in US to activate the 24hours hotline while at the same time instructing them to carrying out massive consular reach to Indonesian citizens.
These are the correct policy responses to do in times like these, rather than dwindling into the erratic US domestic politics. In fact, as part of consular protection of Indonesian nationals abroad, an in-depth cooperation with US Agencies to performing such task is therefore critically important, especially during these days of turbulence in the US.
Second of all, on the larger scale, Trump is playing the carrot and stick style. His nomination for the US’ top diplomat, Rex Tillerson (ex CEO of Exxon Mobil), was just confirmed by the Senate to be the 69th US Secretary of State. On the security front, he successfully nominated James “Mad Dog” Mattis (retired Marine Corps General) as the 26th US Secretary of Defense. General James is a personality known for his charismatic and tough-fighting military commander. He is widely known for advise to his Marines such as “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” or “Marines don’t know how to spell the word ‘defeat’”.
Any strategy or interests pursued by the Indonesian Government against the Trump Administration should always be formulated and observed through the lenses of historical and geopolitical relationship that have bonded the two countries for centuries. It is only against which, that any bilateral relationship would not confined to solely practical or technical cooperation, while losing its geopolitical and strategic calculations, context, and impacts.
While it is still fresh to the Indonesian public of the capture of CIA Agent Allen Lawrence Pope in the ‘50s and the intervention and assistance it rendered to the rebels of the newly independent state, the Indonesian people on the other hand are still grateful and cherishing the friendship between Soekarno and Kennedy that helped to finally restore Irian Barat (now Papua) from the colonial-resources-mongering Netherlands in the ‘60s.
Could such friendship be fostered by the two businessman-turned-President of Joko Widodo and Donald Trump? This could and shall be the case for the benefit of the two countries. They are personalities that do not submit to pressure or gets dictated by other than of their own constituencies and political platform. They do not need foreign audience or foreign government’s approval of what best to their respective countries.
In the immediate and medium term, economy and business could atop the bilateral agenda, apart from security concerns that currently entangled Indonesian citizens in the US. On the security dimension, Indonesia could cooperate with the US to take benefit of US intelligence upon the possible coming of foreign fighters to Indonesia and hence to anticipate and consolidating the proper response to them in accordance with the prevailing rule of law. More areas will have to be scrutinized further in coherence with the correct and tactful readings of the Trump Presidency.
The Strategic Partnership that was agreed on October 2015 between President Joko Widodo and President Obama could be fine-tuned and further implemented whenever the strategic environment necessitated with the current change of Administration and style of leadership of President Joko Widodo and President Joko Widodo. Among which is the maritime and energy sectors. Areas where Indonesia hold dear the most.
For US – Indo relationship, there are more to come if it is prudently managed. Looking forward is a must, but it should be done with historical and geopolitical consciousness.